A Complex Legacy of Destruction and Peace, Alfred Nobel born 1833 October 21st


Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist and the inventor of dynamite, who established the Nobel Prize.

Alfred Nobel was born on 21 October 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden. His father was an engineer and inventor. In 1842, Nobel’s family moved to Russia where his father had opened an engineering firm providing equipment for the Tsar’s armies. In 1850, Nobel’s father sent him abroad to study chemical engineering. His education turned out to be a “dynamite” idea.  During a two-year period, Nobel visited Sweden, Germany, France and the United States. He returned to Sweden in 1863 with his father after the family firm went bankrupt.

Back in Sweden, Nobel devoted himself to the study of explosives. He was particularly interested in the safe manufacture and use of nitro-glycerine, a highly unstable explosive. The danger of the work was obvious. Nobel’s brother Emil had been killed in a nitro-glycerine explosion in 1864.  He was not deterred.  In fact, he wanted to find a “safe” explosive.   Nobel incorporated nitro-glycerine into silica, an inert substance, which made it safer and easier to manipulate. This he patented in 1867 under the name of ‘dynamite’. Dynamite established Nobel’s fame and was soon used in blasting tunnels, cutting canals and building railways and roads all over the world. Nobel went on to invent a number of other explosives.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Nobel built up a network of factories all over Europe to manufacture explosives. In 1894, he bought an ironworks at Bofors in Sweden that became the nucleus of the well-known Bofors arms factory. Although he lived in Paris, Nobel travelled widely. He continued to work in his laboratory, inventing a number of synthetic materials and by the time of his death he had registered 355 patents.  The last place that he would spend any time was the location of his explosive plant.

In November 1895, Nobel signed his will providing for the establishment of the Nobel Prizes. He set aside the bulk of his huge fortune to establish annual prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. An Economics Prize was added later.

Nobel died at his home in Italy on 10 December 1896. He is buried in Stockholm.  His legacy is a complicated one.  On the one hand, he is known for his fortune gained through the manufacture of explosives which have contributed to warfare.  On the other hand, his bequeath of upon his death

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